Anne's Early Years
For a woman who played such an important part in English history, we know remarkably little about her earliest years. Antonia Fraser puts Anne's birth at 1500 or 1501, probably at Blickling (Norfolk) and the date of birth seems to be at the end of May or early June. Other historians put Anne's birth as late as 1507 or 1509.
Anne spent part of her childhood at the court of the Archduchess Margaret. Fraser puts her age at 12-13, as that was the minimum age for a 'fille d'honneur'. It was from there that she was transferred to the household of Mary, Henry VIII's sister, who was married to Louis XII of France. Anne's sister Mary was already in 'the French Queen's' attendance. However, when Louis died, Mary Boleyn returned to England with Mary Tudor, while Anne remained in France to attend Claude, the new French queen. Anne remained in France for the next 6 or 7 years. Because of her position, it is possible that she was at the Field of Cloth of Gold, the famous meeting between Henry VIII and the French king, Francis I.
During her stay in France she learned to speak French fluently and developed a taste for French clothes, poetry and music.
The legend of Anne Boleyn always includes a sixth finger and a large mole or goiter on her neck. However, one would have to wonder if a woman with these oddities (not to mention the numerous other moles and warts she was said to have) would be so captivating to the king. She may have had some small moles, as most people do, but they would be more like the attractive 'beauty marks'.
A quote from the Venetian Ambassador said she was 'not one of the handsomest women in the world...'. She was considered moderately pretty. But, one must consider what 'pretty' was in the 16th century. Anne was the opposite of the pale, blonde-haired, blue-eyed image of beauty. She had dark, olive-colored skin, thick dark brown hair and dark brown eyes which often appeared black. Those large dark eyes were often singled out in descriptions of Anne. She clearly used them, and the fascination they aroused, to her advantage whenever possible.
She was of average height, had small breasts and a long, elegant neck. The argument continues as to whether or not she really had an extra finger on one of her hands, but it seems to be unlikely.
Anne returned to England around 1521 for details for her marriage were being worked out. Meanwhile she went to court to attend Queen Catherine. Her first recorded appearance at Court was March 1, 1522 at a masque.
After her marriage to the heir of Ormonde fell through, she began an affair with Henry Percy, also a rich heir. Cardinal Wolsey put a stop to the romance, which could be why Anne engendered such a hatred of him later in life. It has been suggested that Wolsey stepped in on behalf of the King to remove Percy from the scene because he had already noticed Anne and wanted her for himself. Fraser asserts that this is not the case since the romance between Anne and Percy ended in 1522 and the King didn't notice Anne until 1526. It is possible that Anne had a precontract with Percy.
Somewhere in this time, Anne also had a relationship of some sort with the poet Sir Thomas Wyatt. Wyatt was married in 1520, so the timing of the supposed affair is uncertain. Wyatt was separated from his wife, but there could be little suggestion of his eventual marriage to Anne. Theirs appears to be more of a courtly love.
Exactly when and where Henry VIII first noticed Anne is not known. It is likely that Henry sought to make Anne his mistress, as he had her sister Mary years before. Maybe drawing on the example of Elizabeth Woodville, Queen to Edward IV (and maternal grandmother to Henry VIII) who was said to have told King Edward that she would only be his wife, not his mistress, Anne denied Henry VIII sexual favors. We don't know who first had the idea of marriage, but eventually it evolved into "Queen or nothing" for Anne.
At first, the court probably thought that Anne would just end up as another one of Henry's mistresses. But, in 1527 we see that Henry began to seek an annulment of his marriage to Catherine, making him free to marry again.
King Henry's passion for Anne can be attested to in the love letters he wrote to her when she was away from court. Henry hated writing letters, and very few documents in his own hand survive. However, 17 love letters to Anne remain and are preserved in the Vatican library.
In 1528, Anne's emergence at Court began. Anne also showed real interest in religious reform and may have introduced some of the 'new ideas' to Henry, and gaining the hatred of some members of the Court. When the court spent Christmas at Greenwich that year, Anne was lodged in nice apartments near those of the King.
The legal debates on the marriage of Henry and Catherine of Aragon continued on. Anne was no doubt frustrated by the lack of progress. Her famous temper and tongue showed themselves at times in famous arguments between her and Henry for all the court to see. Anne feared that Henry might go back to Catherine if the marriage could not be annulled and Anne would have wasted time that she could have used to make an advantageous marriage.
Anne was not popular with the people of England. They were upset to learn that at the Christmas celebrations of 1529, Anne was given precedence over the Duchesses of Norfolk and Suffolk, the latter of which was the King's own sister, Mary.
In this period, records show that Henry began to spend more and more on Anne, buying her clothes, jewelry, and things for her amusement such as playing cards and bows and arrows.
The waiting continued and Anne's position continued to rise. On the first day of September 1532, she was created Marquess of Pembroke, a title she held in her own right. In October, she held a position of honor at meetings between Henry and the French King in Calais.
Sometime near the end of 1532, Anne finally gave way and by December she was pregnant. To avoid any questions of the legitimacy of the child, Henry was forced into action. Sometime near St. Paul's Day (January 25) 1533, Anne and Henry were secretly married. Although the King's marriage to Catherine was not dissolved, in the King's mind it had never existed in the first place, so he was free to marry whomever he wanted. On May 23, the Archbishop officially proclaimed that the marriage of Henry and Catherine was invalid.
Plans for Anne's coronation began. In preparation, she had been brought by water from Greenwich to the Tower of London dressed in cloth of gold. The barges following her were said to stretch for four miles down the Thames. On the 1st of June, she left the Tower in procession to Westminster Abbey, where she became a crowned and anointed Queen in a ceremony led by Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury. [Read an account of her coronation]
By August, preparations were being made for the birth of Anne's child, which was sure to be a boy. Names were being chosen, with Edward and Henry the top choices. The proclamation of the child's birth had already been written with 'prince' used to refer to the child.
Anne took to her chamber, according to custom, on August 26, 1533 and on September 7, at about 3:00 in the afternoon, the Princess Elizabeth was born. Her christening service was scaled down, but still a pleasant affair. The princess' white christening robes can currently be seen on display at Sudeley Castle in England.
Anne now knew that it was imperative that she produce a son. By January of 1534, she was pregnant again, but the child was either miscarried or stillborn. In 1535, she became pregnant again but miscarried by the end of January. The child was reported to have been a boy. The Queen was quite upset, and blamed the miscarriage on her state of mind after hearing that Henry had taken a fall in jousting. She had to have known at this point that her failure to produce a living male heir was a threat to her own life, especially since the King's fancy for one of her ladies-in-waiting, Jane Seymour, began to grow.
Anne's enemies at court began to plot against her using the King's attentions to Jane Seymour as the catalyst for action. Cromwell began to move in action to bring down the Queen. He persuaded the King to sign a document calling for an investigation that would possibly result in charges of treason.
On April 30, 1536, Anne's musician and friend for several years, Mark Smeaton, was arrested and probably tortured into making 'revelations' about the Queen. Next, Sir Henry Norris was arrested and taken to the Tower of London. Then the Queen's own brother, George Boleyn, Lord Rochford was arrested.
On May 2, the Queen herself was arrested at Greenwich and was informed of the charges against her: adultery, incest and plotting to murder the King. She was then taken to the Tower by barge along the same path she had traveled to prepare for her coronation just three years earlier. In fact, she was lodged in the same rooms she had held on that occasion.
There were several more arrests. Sir Francis Weston and William Brereton were charged with adultery with the Queen. Sir Thomas Wyatt was also arrested, but later released. They were put on trial with Smeaton and Norris at Westminster Hall on May 12, 1536. The men were not allowed to defend themselves, as was the case in charges of treason. They were found guilty and received the required punishment: they were to be hanged at Tyburn, cut down while still living and then disemboweled and quartered.
On Monday the 15th, the Queen and her brother were put on trial at the Great Hall of the Tower of London. It is estimated that some 2000 people attended. Anne conducted herself in a calm and dignified manner, denying all the charges against her. Her brother was tried next, with his own wife testifying against him (she got her due later in the scandal of Kathryn Howard). Even though the evidence against them was scant, they were both found guilty, with the sentence being read by their uncle, Thomas Howard , the Duke of Norfolk. They were to be either burnt at the stake (which was the punishment for incest) or beheaded, at the discretion of the King.
On May 17, George Boleyn was executed on Tower Hill. The other four men condemned with the Queen had their sentences commuted from the grisly fate at Tyburn to a simple beheading at the Tower with Lord Rochford.
Anne knew that her time would soon come and started to become hysterical, her behavior swinging from great levity to body- wracking sobs. She received news that an expert swordsman from Calais had been summoned, who would no doubt deliver a cleaner blow with a sharp sword than the traditional axe. It was then that she made the famous comment about her 'little neck'.
Interestingly, shortly before her execution on charges of adultery, the Queen's marriage to the King was dissolved and declared invalid. One would wonder then how she could have committed adultery if she had in fact never been married to the King, but this was overlooked, as were so many other lapses of logic in the charges against Anne.
They came for Anne on the morning of May 19 to take her to the Tower Green, where she was to be afforded the dignity of a private execution. [Read the Constable's recollection of this morning]. She made a short speech [read the text of Anne's speech] before kneeling on the scaffold. She removed her headdress (which was an English gable hood and not her usual French hood, according to contemporary reports) and her ladies tied a blindfold over her eyes. The sword itself had been hidden under the straw. The swordsman cut off her head with one swift stroke.
Anne's body and head were put into an arrow chest and buried in an unmarked grave in the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula which adjoined the Tower Green. Her body was one that was identified in renovations of the chapel under the reign of Queen Victoria, so Anne's final resting place is now marked in the marble floor.